Archive for the ‘Syria – chemical weapons’ category

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding

June 29, 2017

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, June 29, 2017

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat.

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Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that the Syrian regime has drawn back from plans to conduct another chemical attack, following a warning by the Trump administration of serious consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces followed through with their plans. 

U.S. intelligence detected “active preparations for chemical weapons use” at the same air base from which the regime allegedly had launched its prior chemical attack last April that caused mass casualties. President Trump had responded to the April chemical attack with a barrage of cruise missiles targeting that air base. The White House issued its public warning to the Assad regime on Monday in unambiguous terms, declaring that Assad and his military would pay a “heavy price” if his regime conducted another chemical attack.

“It appears that they took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it,” Mattis told reporters.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went even further in crediting the Trump administration for stopping Assad at least for now. “I can tell you that due to the President’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Ambassador Haley claimed at a House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing. “I would like to think that the President saved many innocent men, women and children.”

It is difficult to prove what may have actually motivated Assad. In any case, whether Assad holds back for good remains to be seen. But we do know the Trump administration is watching constantly for any moves by the Assad regime that could signal an imminent chemical attack and has military assets in place to swiftly respond to such an attack, if not prevent one in the first place.

President Trump not only demonstrated last April that he would follow through on his threats if certain red lines of his were crossed, unlike our previous president. In addition to its warning, the Trump administration may have sent some concrete signals to the Assad regime that it means business this time as well. According to Debkafile, “Signs were gathering in Washington and the Middle East Tuesday, June 26 that the Trump administration was preparing a substantial military operation against the Syrian army and Bashar Assad’s allies, such as the foreign pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah. Some US military sources suggested that an American preemptive strike was in store in the coming hours to prevent Assad’s army from again resorting to chemical warfare against his people.”

Assad may still decide to launch another chemical attack, figuring that his key allies, particularly Russia, will continue to back him. No doubt, he took note of Russia’s stern response to the U.S.’s downing of a Syrian warplane earlier this month, including a warning from the Russian Defense Ministry that “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” The Syrian regime had also already taken some precautions by moving most of its operational aircraft to a Russian airbase in Syria after the April missile strike. The Russian airbase is protected by fairly advanced air defense systems. An American missile strike on Syrian aircraft located at a Russian air base would in all likelihood be seen as a major escalation of the war by the Russian government, risking a direct military confrontation between U.S. and Russia that the Trump administration may be loath to risk. As if to thumb his nose at the Trump administration’s latest threats by demonstrating the strength of his military alliance with Russia, Assad was seen strutting around a Russian air baseinspecting its aircraft and defense systems. He was even photographed sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

Indeed, Russia appears ready to raise the stakes to bolster the Syrian dictator’s regime. Debkafile reports that Russia is “building a new base in southeastern Syria,” which would “provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance.”

As Russia raises the stakes, the U.S. must be clearer than ever as to its strategic objectives in Syria, which it is willing to back up with military force even in the face of Russian threats.  We must do all we can to prevent getting sucked into Syria’s civil war, including by undertaking any military efforts at regime change. That said, we must repel any military action by the Syrian regime or its allies that would prevent us from prosecuting the war against ISIS, which remains our number one objective until the ISIS sanctuaries, infrastructure and leadership are for all intents and purposes destroyed.

However, we also cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s chemical weapons program continues to pose. The Obama administration had thought that it had largely eliminated the threat “diplomatically,” when it reached a phony deal with Russia to oversee the removal and destruction of the Syrian regime’s declared chemical weapons. The opportunity for cheating was all too plain to see, except by Obama and his clueless Secretary of State John Kerry. We are now seeing the consequences. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Syria’s chemical program remains intact.

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat. The transfer of chemical or biological weapons to terrorist hands would represent the most dangerous outcome of the Syrian conflict to the rest of the world, including to the United States. That is why we must monitor where we believe Assad’s remaining chemical weapons and production facilities are located, prevent them from being used or even moved from known locations, do all that we can to keep them out of the hands of the terrorists and destroy the chemical weapons and production facilities when the opportunity presents itself.

Assad shown around Russian Latakia air base

June 28, 2017

Assad shown around Russian Latakia air base, DEBKAfile, June 28, 2017

President Assad inspects Russian weapons systems at the Hmeimim air base in western Syria.

Shortly after Washington warned Damascus against any more chemical attacks and stressed that Russia and Iran would also be held to account, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s visit to the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia on Tuesday, June 27, bears striking symbolic, if not provocative, significance. Their guest from Damascus was shown around the base by the commanders of Russian forces in Syria and allowed a close look at the warplanes and attack helicopters lined up for his perusal. Indeed, as DEBKAfile’s military sources show in the series of attached photographs, Assad had his picture taken while sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet and while he was closely examining Russian S-400 and S-300 air defense missile batteries.

Not all the photos showed the base neatly prepared for a formal visit. A group of Russian troops were seen in a variety of work clothes standing untidily around some of the weapons systems, indicating that Assad’s visit was improvised in a hurry as an attempt to show that Moscow and Damascus were as tight as ever and ready together to repel any American attack on Syrian military targets.

Assad sits in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack

April 24, 2017

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack, Fox News via YouTube, April 24, 2017

 

Message in the MOAB

April 14, 2017

Message in the MOAB, Power LineScott Johnson, April 14, 2017

(Just for the halibut, please see also ‘March for Science’ Group Laments Trump’s Bombing Of ‘Marginalized’ ISIS Fighters. — DM)

Last week President Trump authorized a limited missile strike against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons against civilians. I explicated what I thought was “the message in the missiles” (I stretched to find 10 messages). Yesterday the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. The MOAB is the colloquial name given to the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast.

Here is the New York Times story on the Pentagon’s announcement. It is about as bad as one might expect under the circumstances. The Times seems mystified by the whole thing, taking it as another in an endless series of black marks against President Trump.

Like the military reprisal against the Syrian regime, the MOAB send a message or 10. Herewith, as William F. Buckley used to say, a few observations:

1. The MOAB has been around since 2002, but this is the first time it has been used in combat. It was used to achieve a specific military purpose (see notes 8 & 9 below) with respect to which the Obama administration had previously refrained. When I say “refrained,” I mean “restrained the military.” The era of Obama foreign policy is over.

2. Trump himself expanded on this point at the White House yesterday. He asserted there’s been a “tremendous difference” militarily between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. “If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to really what’s happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference,” Trump said. “And this was another very successful mission,” he added.

3. Trump elaborated. “Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do, I authorized my military. We have given them total authorization. That’s what they’re doing.”

4. The MOAB serves as a reminder of other tools in the chest. The MOAB is not our biggest non-nuclear weapon. That is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP. The National Interest reminds us that our Air Force also fields the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is a massive precision-guided 30,000lb bunker-busting weapon usually dropped from a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

5. The MOAB therefore sent a message to North Korea. It put an exclamation point on the military reprisal against the Syrian regime. It reiterated that the era of Obama foreign policy is over. Trump himself professed agnosticism on this point, but this was the message to North Korea: “I don’t know if this sends a message. It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.” What we see here is akin to the rhetorical device of apophysis or praeteritio.

6. Not coincidentally, NBC News reports: “U.S. may launch strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger.” The use of the MOAB in Afghanistan makes the leaks here highly credible.

7. The MOAB sent a message to Iran. I can’t find a citation to support me here, but it’s obvious. What goes for North Korea goes for Iran.

8. The use of the bomb had a specific military purpose. As former intelligence officer and Army veteran Michael Pregent commented explained on FOX News last night, ISIS fighters in Afghanistan are using the massive tunnel complex that Al Qaeda used starting back in 2001 when U.S. forces were deployed to Afghanistan. “They used the same tunnel complex for bin Laden to escape to Pakistan,” Pregent said. “The Haqqani network, a terrorist organization out of Pakistan, uses it to bring in lethal aid. So you have these organizations like Al Qaeda, the Haqqani group, the Taliban and now ISIS using a tunnel complex to kill Americans in the past.” Thomas Spoehr has more to the same effect here.

9. At NRO, David French highlights what he calls “an important and painful point about our almost 16-year long war [in Afghanistan].” This is the point: “Excessive American caution has cost American lives and American limbs, and it has left families and friends of the victims with deep psychological wounds. Those wounds would be grievous enough in the best circumstances, but they’re compounded by the fact that many of the decisions not to shoot, not to use artillery, or not to drop bombs were based on a combination of rules of engagement and military misjudgments that were transparently foolish at the time.” (Please do read the whole thing.)

10. Don’t let me forget to mention that the Obama era in American foreign policy is over.

The White House A-Team

April 14, 2017

The White House A-Team, Bill Whittle Channel via YouTube, April 13, 2017

A breakdown on Trump’s dream team of Rex Tillerson, Nikki Haley, and H.R. McMaster after recent occurrences in Syria conflict.

America is back, and Russia is listening

April 13, 2017

America is back, and Russia is listening, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, April 13, 2017

Trump knows what Obama refused to acknowledge — that the U.S. cannot shirk its duty as the world’s policeman and the region’s sheriff. Obama hoped that he could just ignore this region or let others lead.

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In September 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. This was just days after then-U.S. President Barack Obama effectively decided not to take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who had just used chemical weapons against his people. Two years later, having realized that the U.S. left a vacuum in the region, Russia returned with a force not seen since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who was sworn in less than 100 days ago, has decided to change the political equation the Russians have created. Surprisingly, the Russians are willing to listen, despite their repeated mention of the sorry state of relations between Moscow and Washington.

The U.S. media is fond of reporting on Trump’s so-called illicit ties to the Russian government. But the truth of the matter is that it was Obama, in 2013, who tried to cozy up to the Russians, because he wanted to reach a nuclear deal with Iran — which he considered the most important part of his legacy, much more than an intervention in Syria.

Russian-American relations reached “a low point,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week, as a result of the situation in Syria. But both superpowers are still determined to fight terrorism together and support an international inquiry of the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province last week.

The joint press conference Tillerson held with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday underscored the fact that superpowers have their own language, and when the U.S. talks like the superpower that it is, Russia has no choice but to play along, even if the Russians made sure Tillerson had to wait until the very last moment before he was told he could meet Putin in Moscow (and the meeting was only two hours long).

Despite all that has been said on Russia-U.S. relations, it is important to note that relations between two big powers are by definition different than any other forms of bilateral relations. Moreover, the current escalation is a plus for Russia because it puts it on equal footing with the U.S. That is why Russia made sure Tillerson’s visit had all the hallmarks of a summit in which the world’s leading superpowers determine how the world is going to run. As far as the Russians are concerned, this is the main accomplishment of the meeting. In the grand scheme of things, it is a win-win for both sides: Trump can distance himself from Russia, and Putin can prove that he can stand up to the Americans.

Despite what most people think, Trump actually acted strategically when he ordered the missile strike last week on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The strike was designed to send a much wider and strategic message, that would resonate well beyond Syria — in Iran, in North Korea and in Russia. It was designed to make sure people think twice before they mess with the U.S.

Trump knows what Obama refused to acknowledge — that the U.S. cannot shirk its duty as the world’s policeman and the region’s sheriff. Obama hoped that he could just ignore this region or let others lead.

Yours truly predicted Trump would be tested in his first months in office, just like President Ronald Reagan was tested in his first year in office. Back then Reagan had to respond to air traffic controllers who went on strike at federal airports; now Trump has to deal with the Russians and Assad. Trump has no qualms about doing an about-face, even on issues that he is not supposed to care about. Both Reagan and Trump changed the rules of the game when they responded to those early tests. Such behavior creates the element of surprise and proves that a president is willing to act like a madman.

Tillerson says US-Russia relations at ‘low point,’ calls for improving ties after Putin meeting

April 12, 2017

Tillerson says US-Russia relations at ‘low point,’ calls for improving ties after Putin meeting, Fox News, April 12, 2017

(Please see also, The Real Winner in the Russia Investigations Is Iran.

The best interests of the United States would be to woo Russia away from these maniacs — and we very well could have.  We are, at least for now, still the world’s biggest GNP and control a great deal of the global economy.  Greedy despots like Putin know that as well as anybody.  They may not feel good about it, but to some degree they might play with us.  And if they wanted to enough, if we sweetened the pot enough, they’d even disengage from the mullahs, leaving them with no ally of value, no substantial defender.

Trump — or some people close to him — may have had this in mind when they started speaking with the Russians way back in the Paleolithic Era of the transition days.  They’d have been fools not to.  They wouldn’t have been doing their duty to the United States or to the civilized world for that matter.

Now Trump or his people can no longer even consider making such inroads. They would be accused immediately of treason or something close. The possibility of separating the Russians from Iran has been destroyed by these investigations — first by the House, now by the Senate, and always by the media.

— DM)

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a hastily arranged meeting in Moscow late Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he worked to ease tensions with the country over Syria and other global crises – even as he and President Trump, from afar, continued to pressure Putin over his alliance with Bashar Assad. 

Tillerson, speaking frankly during a joint press conference in Moscow alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said U.S.-Russia relations have hit a “low point,” while stressing the need to improve ties.

“There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” Tillerson said.

Those tensions have mounted since Trump ordered a missile strike on an airbase controlled by the Assad government last week, in response to a chemical weapons attack.

Tillerson and Lavrov spoke after Tillerson met in private with Putin at the Kremlin for nearly two hours.

Tillerson, the first Trump Cabinet official to visit Russia, originally was only slated to meet with Lavrov but spoke with Putin after first sitting down with his Russian counterpart.

Tillerson traveled to Moscow just days after the Trump administration launched missile strikes on an airbase in Syria, angering Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Moscow. The strike was in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier last week.

Tillerson ratcheted up his rhetoric en route to Moscow earlier this week, saying “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end” and challenging Russia to reconsider its alliance with the government in Damascus.

Trump also told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that Putin is backing “an evil person” in Syria, and it’s “very bad for Russia.”

At the same time, Trump made clear he’s pushing for peace in Syria. He said, “we’re not going into Syria,” but said pressure will be on Russia to ensure peace.

“If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, you wouldn’t have a problem right now,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, during a forum at The Newseum in Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about what could be on the table at a Putin-Tillerson meeting. He spoke to their common interests.

“I think there is a shared interest in defeating ISIS in the region that we have a national security concern that should align with their national security concern,” he said.

Spicer had tough words for Russia’s alliance with Assad, however.

“Russia right now is an island,” he said. “It’s Russia, North Korea and Iran … Russia is among that group the only non-failed state.” He said Russia is “isolating” itself by standing by Assad.